Common practices still a little sketchy


My son loves the Xbox—I may have mentioned that before. He plays a game called “Minecraft,” which requires him to design and build his own little world. It’s fascinating — and very complicated.

That complexity creates its own set of issues. A complicated program with interesting graphics and an ever-expanding world eats up quite a bit of memory. Now, the system comes with quite a bit of memory, so that’s nice. Unfortunately, the system occasionally takes “updates” over the network — these updates are not optional, and they also eat up quite a bit of memory. And, now, these two memory meals have overloaded the memory that comes with the system.

The solution? Go buy more hardware. Think about that: Microsoft has forced upon the users of its Xbox system an “update” which requires some of those users to go buy more Microsoft hardware.

Now, I know — grand scheme? Not a big deal. That said, anybody else think this smacks vaguely of a mafia-like protection scheme?

This kind of corruption drives me crazy. It’s like when manufacturers build minor parts of their products with sub-par material, knowing that nobody looks for that on inspection, but that’s guaranteed to break at some point. So then the manufacturer can replace and repair the product at some cost to the consumer. It’s job security for repairmen, and the entire system that backs them up.

In fact, if there’s one thing that I think most Americans, regardless of their political leanings, should be able to agree on, it’s that corruption is a bad thing. The Left sure was angry about a decade ago when a bunch of rebuilding contracts in the newly-broken Iraq went to Dick Cheney’s former company of Halliburton. The Right has been equally indignant at the myriad of things during the Obama years that smack of corruption (I.R.S. targeting of conservatives, the Cornhusker Kickback, the non-enforcement of immigration laws). And, while in both decades, partisans have rushed to the defense of their people, the great middle of America has turned its collective noses up at the vague stink of corruption.

That’s why I think the Jeffco teachers’ union needs to tread a little bit carefully in its public relations effort during the now-secret contract negotiations. It’s tough to put a finger on it, but there is a vague sense of something not quite right about the way public employees negotiate collective bargaining agreements.

Here’s how the public sees it: unions get their funding from public money (yeah, yeah, union dues are teachers’ own money; but if a tax voucher equivalent to the property taxes one puts in the system is “public money,” then so are union dues); some of that public money gets diverted to political advocacy; frequently, that advocacy leads to people (elected school boards) being at the negotiating table across from the union who were put there, essentially, by the union. In other words, the people negotiating the contract are the people the union got elected to do that very thing.

In the past, this relationship has actually rendered pretty smart contracts that required give and take. But it’s interesting that this year, when the union-backed candidates lost, the negotiations became acrimonious almost overnight.

It’s a tricky game when you start playing around at the edges of corruption. It may not be there, but the public has a funny way of deciding what smells bad all on its own. Whether it’s a protection scheme around a stupid little gaming system, or something that actually matters, I think the public is running out of patience for things that smell like corruption.


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